“The most valuable thing you can make is a mistake. You can’t learn anything new by being perfect.”
In one of the classes I was teaching, a parent happened to come in for a visit right in the middle of me high-fiving a child for making a mistake. Intrigued by what he saw, he looked at me and pursed his eyebrows together. He was curiously examining my choice and was eagerly awaiting my rationale.
Mistakes in Learning are AWESOME!
In this particular situation, I had a child that had been stuck in the land of Direct Modeling. For those of you who are unaware, Direct Modeling is a type of math strategy whereby the child uses math manipulatives (cubes, counters, etc.) or pictures to solve the problem. This is a crucial first step to understanding math. The moving parts help the child understand what is happening. Anyhow, Direct Modeling is a precursor to more sophisticated math strategies that a child will graduate into, such as Counting On.
On this day, my little learner decided to step outside of her Direct Modeling comfort zone and try a brand new strategy. JOY! It was a triumph for her learning. She went out on a limb and gave it a whirl. Although she didn’t get the problem right, she was praised for being a brave learner and trying a brand new strategy. HIGH FIVE! It also allowed us a crucial teaching and learning point. Although she was discouraged that her answer was incorrect, it allowed us to retrace her thinking. We went through her steps and she explained her reasoning. Through our talk, she was able to pinpoint where she might have gone wrong. Without revealing the answer or next steps, I allowed her executive learning functions to kick into high gear. Once she had an inkling of her error, I encouraged her to try again. She did… a few more times. But then… she got it!
I gave her another sample problem to practice her new strategy on… and she got that one too!
It is so important and meaningful to convey to our children that mistakes are a crucial part of learning and of being human. In fact, mistakes prove that we are trying. This lesson reminds me of an old adage which states, “We never lose. We either win or we GROW!” Yep… making mistakes are kind of like that.
Also important, in my classroom(s) or in your homes, is that our children witness us making mistakes— more importantly witness how we handle those mistakes and grow from them. Often times in class, I make mistakes on purpose just so that my learners can watch how I acknowledge my mistake, dust myself off, and try again. I want them to see that even grown-ups make mistakes and that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up over them. This really lets our children off the hook and takes the edge off of them thinking that they have to be perfect in order to please us. On the contrary, actually. Mistakes and continued learning are gifts that serve to make us improved humans and advanced problem-solvers.
After all, mistakes not only teach us but show our children how to think, problem-solve, and approach new challenges in creative ways. This is how we build better planning, previewing, initiation, and cognitive flexibility skills. So, yes… it’s true— Mistakes in Learning are AWESOME!
So go out there and make some mistakes today… air high-five to those of you that do! Gotta keep it safe by keeping our hands to ourselves (Coronavirus). But I gotcha!
Here’s some additional resources for you!